Scuba Diving in Moalboal, Cebu: The Sardine Run of Pescador Island

Sardine Run
The marvelous sardine run of Pescador Island in Moalboal, Cebu can be admired by diving or snorkeling!

The term “sardine run” originally refers to the congregation of billions of sardines – or more specifically the Southern African pilchard Sardinops sagax – in southern Africa from May through July when these fish species spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank and move northward along the east coast of South Africa.

But schools of a smaller scale outside South Africa have also been dubbed “sardine runs”. In the Philippines, the most well-known sardine run occurs in Pescador Island off Panagsama Beach in Moalboal, Cebu. After an earthquake in February 2012, the school left the island, affecting the population of larger predatory fish. However, in May 2013 the sardines returned and so did the bigger fish. Sightings of the rare thresher sharks, which hunt and feed on these schools, have also been reported.

Glass Shrimp
Holthuis Cleaner Shrimp (Periclimenes holthuisi)
Pescardor Island
The coral wall of Pescador Island has an abundance of marine life
Sardine Run
A tornado of sardines at Pescador Island, Moalboal, Cebu

The underwater composition of the island’s reef system is a sandy slope covered with soft coral from 5 to 10 meters, followed by a wall covered with hard corals dropping down to about 40 meters. We were dropped off the southern end of Pescador Island, and allowed the current to take us along the coral wall clockwise around the island. In a way, Pescador is like the top of a massive pillar of coral stemming from the seafloor.

Along its coral walls were an abundance of marine life: tassled scorpionfish, lemon damselfish, spotfin lionfish and white-eyed moray eels, to name what we spotted. Of course, our dive’s finale were the large school of sardines that glistened and morphed under the filtered sunlight near the surface. Amazingly, the sardines swim quite close to the surface, and can thereby also be viewed by snorkelers, who can join the dive trips at a minimal fee.

After two dives at Pescador Island, we moved northwards closer to the mainland at a dive site called Dolphin House, named so not because of any resident cetaceans, but after the nearby beach resort along the shore. At this site were more scorpionfish and lionfish, as well as blue tunicates and bubble coral inhabited by minuscule, transparent Holthius cleaner shrimp.

White-Eyed Moray Eel
A white-eyed moray eel peers out of a crevice along the coral wall of Pescador Island
Pescador Island
Pescador Island, Moalboal, Cebu – a premier dive site in the Philippines


HOW TO GET THERE: Moalboal is three hours by bus from the Southern Bus Terminal in Cebu City. From Moalboal town, Panagsama Beach, where the dive resorts are located, is 4 km away, and can be reached by tricycle.

My sister and I dove with Nelson’s Scuba Diving School (Ocean Safari Philippines), who pioneered scuba diving in Moalboal in 1979. Dive rates are PHP 1,200 per dive, inclusive of full equipment. Landline: +63 32 4743023. Mobile: +63 9172767969. Email: oceansafariphilippines@hotmail.com 


WHERE TO STAY: Savedra Beach Bungalows has beachfront rooms all with seaview balconies. Free wifi available. Standard rooms are PHP 1,450 in low season, and PHP 1,700 in high season; while family rooms are PHP 2,100 in low season and PHP 2,200 in high season. Landline: +63 32 4743228. Email: info@savedrabeachbungalows.com

11 comments

  1. Now that we’ve tried scuba diving, we want to do it again! We’ll be visiting this place some day. Thanks for the tips! 🙂

  2. Marco says:

    I was amazed of the sardines photos.

  3. The Holthuis Cleaner Shrimp is simply captivating. Nice shot =)

  4. indahs.com says:

    Thank you for this nice article. Just wondering if you know the season to see the sardine run in Moalboal/Pescador island. I am thinking to visit it in Dec-Jan, would be awesome to dive and see these sardines 😉

  5. indahs.com says:

    Thank you for this nice article. Just wondering if you know the season to see the sardine run in Moalboal/Pescador island. I am thinking to visit it in Dec-Jan, would be awesome to dive and see these sardines 😉

  6. thatsofarah says:

    Beautiful pictures, Edgar!

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